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Town considers switch in policing

By SHEILA MULLANE ESTRADA

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 1, 2001


REDINGTON SHORES -- Less than a year after signing a three-year contract with its longtime law enforcement provider, commissioners are considering a switch from the Indian Shores Police Department to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

The Town Commission has scheduled a public meeting at 7 p.m. Monday to give residents a chance to question Sheriff Everett Rice and discuss the impact of such a change on the town.

"I just want to see what is best for Redington Shores," said Commissioner Debbie O'Connor. "Monday we will find out what the citizens want."

In March, O'Connor had placed the town's police contract on the commission agenda. Mayor J.J. Beyrouti asked Rice to make a short presentation.

After that session, the commission decided to broaden the law enforcement discussion in a townwide meeting.

"It's a definite possibility that the commission is leaning toward the sheriff," said Commissioner Clell Miller, who favors continuing the relationship with Indian Shores. Switching would not save the town a significant amount of money, she said.

Redington Shores pays Indian Shores $269,415 for a full-time police officer. That amount will rise to $277,497 next year, and to $285,821 for the 2002-3 fiscal year.

Coverage by the Sheriff's Office would cost the town $267,000 for the first year. That amount would rise by approximately 3 percent each subsequent year. In addition, the town would have to pay a $100,000 setup fee (prorated over a five-year period). The first year's cost then would be $287,000.

"Redington Shores is a little unique," said Burt Hatcher, director of contract services for the Sheriff's Office. "It does not have its own police department and, therefore, cannot offset the setup fee by turning equipment over to us."

Hatcher said the town would save money in the long run by switching to the Sheriff's Office and would receive "as good, if not better," service.

"We will tell the people Monday what they will get for their money," said Hatcher, who stressed that if the town makes the change, any affected Indian Shores officers who qualify to work for the Sheriff's Office "would be taken care of."

The sheriff typically hires qualified officers as deputies, though pay grades and accumulated retirement benefits can be affected.

The Indian Shores Police Department has been providing law enforcement for Redington Shores for at least the past 20 years, Chief E.D. Williams said. He said that if the town loses the Redington Shores contract, he will be forced to lay off about five officers. That would cut his department virtually in half.

Williams, who was not formally invited to the Monday meeting, said he plans to attend but will not speak. He has talked with Rice about the situation but has had no conversations with Beyrouti.

"It is a little strange from a protocol standpoint," Williams said. "We just signed a long-term contract that the mayor called a "sweetheart deal.' I thought everything was resolved, but apparently that is not the case."

Beyrouti could not be reached for comment.

During the past year, Williams said there have been a number of times that Redington Shores commissioners have asked his department to ticket, impound vehicles or otherwise take law enforcement action when the town's civil and criminal codes did not warrant that action.

"All we can do is enforce the law," Williams said.

On Tuesday, he asked for and received the Indian Shores Commission's unanimous pledge that it will continue to operate the police department if Redington Shores switches law enforcement agencies. Eliminating the department would have to be approved by voters in a referendum.

The loss of Redington Shores would have no adverse affect on Indian Shores taxpayers, Williams said, since the neighboring town pays only one-third of the department's budget.

If a change is to be made this year, it will have to be done within the month. Redington Shores has until April 30 to cancel its contract with Indian Shores.

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